There are no words to describe how much I adored Adrian Piper’s retrospective at MoMA, but not for the reasons that seemed to preoccupy everyone else’s mind. Like with many art shows featuring Black artists at the moment, the white institution obsesses over artists of color who can “teach us” about gender, racism, and xenophobia. The exhibition features her most renowned works that fit the bill, such as Cornered and public performance pieces. Piper’s penchant for minimalism and grayscale is optically pleasing and receives much critical attention.
However, Piper herself expressed a wish to resign from this ultra-pedagogical role with a piece that cheekily announced her “retirement” from the loaded identity of being African American. All but unmentioned was what makes Piper so distinctive and timely–her dry humor, witty sarcasm, and specific contempt for white womanhood. These characteristics culminate perhaps most strongly in her “Doll” paintings, which allude to the famous Kenneth B. Clark “Doll Test,” while shattering the ever-present desirability of white femininity itself and having a good laugh at the same time. Afterward, I felt robbed that these paintings were not more canonical. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here is my analysis of the show in the form of GIFs: